More than half of Iridium NEXT constellation now in orbit

An Iridium NEXT satellite
An Iridium NEXT satellite

Iridium Communications says it enters 2018 at the mid-point of its Iridium NEXT launch programme.

SpaceX successfully launched the fourth set of 10 satellites into orbit from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California on December 22 2017.

It says each launch strategically delivers new satellites to specific orbital planes, so that the complete Iridium NEXT constellation will be operational as soon as possible after all launches are complete.

The network comprises six polar orbiting planes, each containing 11 operational cross-linked satellites, for a total of 66 satellites in the active constellation.

Of the 10 NEXT satellites launched in December, nine were delivered to their operational orbital plane, and the tenth is set to drift to an adjacent orbital plane.

Once fully deployed, Iridium says NEXT will blanket the earth with satellite connectivity, enabling broadband connectivity from even the most remote parts of the planet.

Matt Desch, chief executive officer, Iridium, said: “It was an amazing sight to see the booster back in flight, carrying Iridium-4 into space.

“We are excited to be taking part in SpaceX’s rocket reusability initiative and make history as the first company to reuse the same booster.

“With more than half of the new constellation now in orbit, momentum around the testing of our new broadband service, Iridium Certus, will continue to progress quickly. I know our customers are very excited about our expanding capabilities.”

The company says NEXT is not only delivering faster data speeds and other new capabilities with Certus, but also enabling revolutionary technologies from the hosted payloads on board each satellite.

Among these are the Aireon real-time aircraft surveillance payload and the maritime Automatic Identification System (AIS) payload, co-operated by Harris Corporation and exactEarth.

All NEXT launches take place out of SpaceX’s west coast launch facility at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. Four additional launches are planned for the first half of 2018, including a unique rideshare that will carry five NEXT satellites, and the twin satellites for the NASA/German Research Center for Geosciences (GFZ) Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment Follow-On mission.

Iridium NEXT is the company’s $3 billion, next-generation, mobile, global satellite network scheduled for completion in 2018.

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